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Style Advice

The best trench coats-on-film moments

The best trench coats-on-film moments

When it comes to hard-working clothing, few styles have persevered like the trench coat. Designed to protect First World War officers from rain and mud, the trench coat is so celebrated that Burberry and Aquascutum – two of Britain’s biggest heritage fashion houses – are divided over who invented it. And it’s not hard to see why – it’s a style that transcends style, age, and yes, even film genres. 

In fact, on-screen stars have sported the style with such ease and elegance, you’d never guess it had been worn to battle anything but bad weather. We spoke to Thread stylist and movie aficionado Toby Standing about his favourite silver screen moments starring the trench coat, and how these iconic on-screen looks influenced the ways we wear the style today.

The look

Alain Delon in “Le Samouraï”

Photographed: Belstaff GARRISON TRENCH ($950)

Why it worked

This late ‘60s film noir take on the trench coat mimics the style of “Casablanca” and old detective movies of the 1950s and early ‘60s, but with a more contemporary (for the time) edge. The look is neat and trim, and this classic coat is worn buttoned all the way up, with the collar popped in a nod to Inspector Clouseau, but cooler. 

Film noir detectives wore low-brim hats and long coats not only because it was the go-to for men who wore suits as uniform at the time, but also because of how dynamic and dramatic they look on screen. The drama and flair of the trench coat made it something of a cliché for men in films, and Alain Delon’s look in “Le Samouraï” pays homage to the origins of this iconic style.

How you can channel the look 

Keep it classic – this style works well if your personal style is a bit more dressed up. We’re not talking fully suited-and-booted, necessarily. But look to pairings of fine knitwear or even a knitted polo with some tailored trousers.  

The look

Robert Redford in “The Way We Were”

Why it worked

Moving into ‘70s cinema, Robert Redford’s interpretation of the trench coat is no longer a nod to other on-screen stars – this is simply how a guy would have worn a trench coat at this time. It’s more contemporary, since he’s not trying to look like a film noir detective, and that’s exactly why it looks so great. You can really believe that Redford would wear this coat, and it’s styled tastefully with a great suit. It’s the perfect demonstration of an iconic piece of clothing worn in an era when it was prevalent. It’s not hard to see how it became the everyday classic we know today. 

How you can channel the look 

This kind of coat looks best when you don't try and confuse the vibe too much. Wearing it with your hoodie and jeans can sometimes make it look a little Topman circa 2010, so reserve that look for a single-breasted mac or overcoat. Instead, keep Robert Redford in mind and aim for his refined, considered cool.

The look

Steve McQueen in “Bullitt”

Photographed: Arket Mid Length Car Coat ($245)

Why it worked

What doesn’t look good on Steve McQueen? His brand of effortless cool means whatever he wears, it looks flawlessly put together. And while that might sound intimidating and unattainable for men who don’t happen to be Steve McQueen, it shouldn’t. When a classically dramatic piece like the trench coat is worn by such a widely respected icon, it becomes a timelessly cool look that works its way into the mainstream. 

This single-breasted style is a little different from the classic trench coat with it’s belted waist and epaulettes. But worn here with a simple blazer, rollneck, and wool trousers it looks like an outfit that could have been snapped on the streets of NYC today. It speaks not only to the resurgence of 1970s style, but also to just how timelessly cool the trench coat is.

How you can channel the look 

The good news is, you don’t have to be as cool as McQueen to pull this off. The slightly less-formal cut of the single-breasted jacket with its exposed buttons and spread collar feels so simple that you could wear it as easily with a hoodie and jeans as a suit and tie. Because a double-breasted trench coat feels structured and formal it can be harder to pull off in a more relaxed look. But this style works, as the simplistic silhouette falls somewhere between a utility jacket and a classic trench coat. 

The look

Harrison Ford in “Blade Runner”

Photographed: Ted Baker TURTLE Trench coat ($466)

Why it worked

Consider this the spiritual successor to the vibe of Steve McQueen. The clothing in “Blade Runner” is distinctly cool because it’s Ridley Scott’s 1980s interpretation of what style would look like in a not-so-distant dystopian future. It’s set in 2019 (which fortunately didn’t see us battling bio-engineered androids), so it doesn’t feel like true ‘80s style, but the evolution of ‘80s style moved 30 years into the future. 

Harrison Ford’s trench coat evolved from the style of Redford and McQueen into what Ridley Scott thought it might look like now – and he didn’t miss the mark. Inevitably, a contemporary version of an imagined future does inform real style. So it fits the climate-crisis environment it’s designed for while still paying homage to its film noir roots – albeit in a dirtied-up, Dracula-collared way.

How you can channel the look

This is one of the easier on-screen trench coats to imitate as it’s based on modern style. The trick is in choosing an unconventional colour, like brown or green, over the classic tan or stone that brings the same mood as the iconic beige trench but feels updated. The darker tone also makes this coat easier to pair with more casual styles as it feels a little less classic – though it’s certainly still classic enough to wear with your suit and tie.

The look

Sting in “Quadrophenia”

Photographed: COS SATIN TRENCH COAT ($210)

Why it worked

Part of this movie’s premise is that Sting’s character is pretty much the coolest guy on the planet. So we know what you’re thinking: is this bleach-blonde, scooter-riding guy in a leather trench coat really that great? But somehow, he is. And it all comes down to how he carries himself. The confidence and attitude it takes to make a leather trench coat look so effortlessly cool is exactly what makes his idolisation believable. Sure, Sting has charisma by the bucketload, but by wearing this trench rather than allowing it to wear him, he proves that so much of style is really down to what you feel confident and comfortable in. 

How you can channel the look

Here’s the thing: we’re not recommending you wear a leather trench coat. The lesson here is in how much better clothing can look when you feel truly good in it. It doesn’t have to be an interesting fabric, or even anything that strays too far from the norm – but it should make you feel as cool as Sting feels in a leather trench. A traditional cut but in a darker colour can be a more accessible way to add an enigmatic twist to this classic style.


Words: Ella White
Styling: Toby Standing